A 2018 artist’s rendering of the Nordic Aquafarms facility proposed for construction beside the Little River in Belfast. Courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms

Maine’s highest court has ruled that a group opposing a proposed $500 million salmon farm in Belfast has standing to appeal municipal permits issued for the project.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Belfast’s Zoning Board of Appeals made an error when it blocked Upstream Watch, a local conservation group, because the board believed it wouldn’t be affected by Nordic Aquafarms’ project.

“We conclude that the ZBA erred when it dismissed Upstream’s appeal for lack of standing because it should not have confined its review to Upstream’s application-to-appeal form,” the court wrote. “We further conclude that, as a matter of law, the administrative record sufficiently demonstrates that Upstream had standing to appeal to the ZBA.”

The ruling is yet another setback for Nordic Aquafarms in the slow-moving fish farm saga. Now, Nordic Aquafarm’s permit for an aquaculture facility in Belfast must again return to the hands of the city. This time, Upstream Watch will have standing to challenge it.

“We are looking forward to finally getting our chance to proceed with our appeal in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals,” Upstream Watch President Amy Grant said. “We’re hopeful that the Zoning Board of Appeals will get what we’re trying to say … and we’re hopeful they’ll do the right thing.”

This is also the latest win for opponents of the Nordic project. They have been pursuing legal challenges to block Nordic from building a $500 million salmon farm in Belfast that would produce 66 million pounds of salmon each year.


Although this is now Nordic’s second loss in Maine’s highest court, it’s still committed to seeing the project through.

“We are remaining steadfast in our resolve to wait out remaining legal issues,” said spokesperson Jacki Cassida.

Nordic first anticipated it could break ground by the end of 2022.

In the ruling handed down Thursday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court had to decide if Belfast’s Zoning Board of Appeals correctly limited Upstream Watch from challenging a permit issued by the city’s Planning Board.

The zoning board had argued that it wasn’t clear why Upstream Watch was affected by the project, which would give it the right to appeal the permit. But the Planning Board had already determined that Upstream Watch was a party of interest, in part because some of its members are property abutters and owners of disputed land.

The court also ruled that the zoning board had erred when it said Upstream Watch had missed a 30-day deadline to submit additional materials.


“I never doubted that we were going to win this. It just takes time,” Grant said. “We knew we were right. It’s just great to get that affirmed in Maine’s highest court.”


Nordic Aquafarms has been trying to build a salmon farm in Belfast since 2018.  The company received final approval and secured a 54-acre property in 2022, where it plans to raise salmon in large tanks and process them. Nordic believes the Belfast facility would create jobs and sustainable protein in Maine. The city of Belfast is particularly interested in the economic development it could bring in.

“The city respects and of course will comply with the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision, and will move forward without delay to get this appeal back before the board of appeals for a decision,” said Kristin M. Collins, the city’s attorney.

Nordic has faced local opposition in Belfast from the get-go. Opponents of the project, including conservation groups and Belfast residents, are concerned that it will have negative environmental impacts, pollute Penobscot Bay, overwhelm the power grid, and infringe on the rights of nearby homeowners.

“There has to be greater respect for a community’s consideration and value of its local environment,” said Andy Stevenson with Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area.


Opponents have subsequently battled the project from various angles in the civil court system.

In a February ruling, the Maine supreme court ruled that Nordic Aquafarms did not own or have a right to use the mud flats it needs to pump out water into Penobscot Bay.

Nordic, the city of Belfast, land owners, and conservation groups are also waiting for the start of a trial in Waldo County Superior Court. There, Upstream Watch and Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area are arguing the city cannot use eminent domain to seize that aforementioned disputed land, including the mudflats. Meanwhile, Upstream Watch is challenging the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to issue its permits to Nordic. MDEP has suspended those permits while the other court cases are still pending.

Thursday’s ruling doesn’t guarantee Nordic will lose its approval from the city. If the Zoning Board of Appeals votes in favor of Upstream Watch, the permit will still go back to the Planning Board for review.

In the event that Nordic keeps its municipal approval, Upstream Watch is prepared to continue its fight, too. That could mean challenging the permit in a higher court. The organization is also prepared to bring the eminent domain case, which has the potential to set a national precedent, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’ll all be very glad when this is over, but we are in it for however long it takes,” Grant said. “We’re gonna continue to do what we believe is the right thing until we’re done.”

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